2023 Mazda CX-50 Brings Mazda’s Signature Handling to the Great Outdoors

2023 Mazda CX-50 Brings Mazda’s Signature Handling to the Great Outdoors

by Jesus Garcia 03/28/2022

All-Terrain California Tour in the New Mazda CX-50 Compact SUV

In January 2022, the first-ever 2023 Mazda CX-50 rolled off the newly constructed Mazda Toyota Manufacturing US Plant in Huntsville, Alabama. This new compact SUV will join Mazda's line of SUVs alongside the current CX-5. However, while the CX-5 is a stylish and capable urban crossover, the new CX-50 is built with a particular set of skills. The SUV's engineered abilities are intended to help the driver escape the constant grind of urban society for green pastures (both literally and figuratively) with Mazda's signature blend of style and sporty handling. 

The best way to experience this in a day was to tour the twisting, winding roads of the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara, California. So, armed with a pre-programmed GPS and keys to a 2023 Mazda CX-50, fresh off the assembly line, Mazda set me loose to tour the scenic landscape to test out the SUV's various drive modes in appropriate environments. 

2023 Mazda CX-50 Brings Mazda’s Signature Handling to the Great Outdoors

Built for the Escape 

The line of available compact SUV/crossover currently on the market reaches far into the horizon. This forces new models to find their own hook to stand out in a pack of standardized all-wheel-drive systems and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Mazda's hook for the 2023 CX-50 is bringing their signature zoom-zoom sporty handling that can make vehicles feel alive and remind us that driving matters to the great outdoors. The Mazda CX-50 achieves this with the help of new Mi-Drive modes like Off-Road and Towing and a new G-Vectoring Control system. 

In speaking with those responsible for designing and engineering the 2023 Mazda CX-50, I appreciated the effort that went into its development. The CX-50 is built to deliver fun handling over various terrains at its core. It keeps the status quo that all Mazda vehicles should have a bit of MX-5 inspired feel regardless of their wheelbase, drivetrain, or row of seats. 

Mazda G-Vectoring Control System 

Mazda's G-Vectoring Control (GVC) system is the core of the CX-50's handling personality. The GVC works to improve the CX-50 steering and throttle response, not to be confused with other torque vectoring systems. It does this by shifting its weight to the front tires to increase grip in the turns and managing how torque is distributed among the four wheels. Moreover, GVC is designed to be virtually unnoticeable as not to disturb the feedback loop between the driver's input and the car's response. As a result, the Mazda CX-50 provides nimble steering and direct throttle feel regardless of terrain or drive mode. 

When you select a Sport or Off-Road mode in other vehicles, you generally feel the car undergo a momentary switch where the steering wheel tenses up, the car's suspension twitches, and the exhaust note is amplified. In the CX-50, the only noteworthy change between drive modes is a color change in its digital instrument gauge. Mazda's goal is consistency in its performance as it goes from regular highway travel to corner apex hitting before leaving the asphalt altogether for dirt, sand, or snow, and even while towing. Dropping a trailer onto the tow-hitch alerts the CX-50 and replaces Sport mode with Towing mode on its Mi-drive menu. With a max towing capacity of 3,500-lbs, the CX-50 provides the torque and cargo space to haul all the necessary gear for a weekend adventure at a national park, ski resort, or beach. 

2023 Mazda CX-50 Brings Mazda’s Signature Handling to the Great Outdoors

Sport Mode in Santa Barbara's Wine Country 

The red mist descends over the center located digital speedometer when you engage Sport mode in the 2023 Mazda CX-50. Bright yellow road signs with ever-increasing zig-zagging roads offered ample warning that it was time to find out what happens when flinging the compact SUV into a corner. I'm pleased to inform you that the CX-50 makes the right noises while providing animated steering and throttle feel. 

Mazda's GVC works to tighten the steering and holds gears for longer to avoid mid-turn shifting when in Sport Mode. As a result, the CX-50 dives into the bends with ease as the GVC uses weight-transfer logic to send power to the front wheels for better grip and avoid the rear wheels from plowing forward. Holding its gear until you come out of the turn also lets you feel the performance as it charges out of the apex and hunts for the next one. During which its 2.5-liter turbocharged engine rumbles in four-banger fury with a satisfying turbo blow-off valve sound when you lift off the throttle. In my personal experience, I discovered that the CX-50 channels its MX-5 vibe when accelerating from 80 mph to 100 mph, as the speedo needle sprints with sports car agility. 

2023 Mazda CX-50 Brings Mazda’s Signature Handling to the Great Outdoors

Off-Road in the Hills of a California Cattle Ranch 

After seeing firsthand that the Mazda CX-50 can handle the bends of twisty mountain roads, the GPS took me to a cattle ranch to try out its off-road mode. The off-road course took us through a picturesque landscape of steep hills and narrow valleys. However, speeds were limited to avoid spitting dust in the faces of any doe-eyed, grass-fed California beef. Regardless, it provided us with the opportunity to feel alive while getting dirty in the CX-50. 

Mazda designed its Off-Road mode to be different by being adaptive and supportive to the driver's input. The GVC focuses on low-speed traction and provides maximum rear-wheel torque when accelerating from a standstill. It also adjusts the traction control settings for diagonal torque transfers during cases where one wheel is off the ground or spinning. In addition, the shift pattern changes in Off-Road mode with a higher idle speed for better throttle control when navigating slippery or uneven terrain. 

As a result, the CX-50 tackles hills and dusty trails with confidence and a satisfying feel at the wheel as the all-wheel-drive system calculates where to send its torque to find necessary traction. Seeing the CX-50 in action provided a firsthand visual of the GVC applying brakes to an individual wheel when it lifted off the ground to prevent spinning and transfer its power to the wheels with the most contact to keep itself moving forward. Personally, its performance in the dirt made me wish I was on the fast-paced rural gravel roads of Texas to find out what sort of rooster tails the CX-50 can produce. 

2023 Mazda CX-50 Brings Mazda’s Signature Handling to the Great Outdoors

Towing with the Mazda CX-50

Part of the drive included a towing exercise involving a closed 3,500-pound trailer. Towing mode is only available when attaching something to the CX-50's trailer hitch. Once selected, the GVC adjusts the transmission's shift pattern to cope with the heavy load. Towing can often transfer a vehicle's weight to the rear, causing the front end to lift. Driving with trailer in tow, the CX-50 works to maintain feel and control as if it wasn't towing anything. Of course, you are aware that you have 3,500 pounds behind you, but the intelligent all-wheel-drive system keeps its torque at the front where it needs it most, providing precise control. 

2023 Mazda CX-50 Brings Mazda’s Signature Handling to the Great Outdoors

Designed to be Tough 

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 is designed to convey two things: power and toughness. Its exterior design features an aggressive styled front end with muscular flared rear fenders. Its black wrap-around clapping, front and rear intakes, and sharp-angled silhouette made me think of the Mazda RX-3 of the 1970s - a compact car punching above its weight class, an ongoing theme for Mazda products. The CX-50 looks good from every angle and offers a scavenger hunt of details to find and admire. For example, the headlamps are sunken in and arched with a front grille shaped in the form of a cocky smile usually reserved for lead singers and Hollywood action heroes. 

Compared to the CX-5, the new CX-50 is shorter and wider to give the compact SUV a planted and more confident stance. These new dimensions also serve a purpose as the lower roofline makes it easier to access roof-mounted accessories. In addition, the rear doors can open at a 90-degree angle for easier access to climb onto the roof and access the interior space. 

The small but mighty theme continues in the interior. Mazda focused on deep access storage for rear cargo space, like a station wagon. With the second-row seats folded, the CX-50 offers 56.3-cubic inches of cargo space and is the first Mazda vehicle to feature a panoramic roof. 

As is expected with Mazda products, the front row is a driver-focused interior. Standard interior features on the entire Mazda CX-50 lineup include Apple CarPlay, an available 10-speaker Bose audio system for premium tiers like the Premium Plus Package. The Mazda CX-50 also offers an extensive list of safety and drivers aids as standard like Radar Cruise Control, Traffic Jam Assist, and Smart Brake Support with Collision Warning. 

Turbo Runs Goods on Regular Gas

All-wheel-drive is standard for the CX-50 and is available in two variants of the Skyactiv 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. Lower tier models use the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter producing 187-hp and 186 lb.-ft of torque. The model shown in this article is the turbocharged 2.5-liter with 256-hp and 326 lb.-ft of torque. These performance figures are achieved when the engine is burning 93 octane fuel. Don't worry. You can use regular 87 octane gasoline with the turbocharged CX-50 — however, its total output changes to 227-hp and 310 lb.-ft of torque. Both engines use a six-speed automatic transmission. Moreover, Mazda claims it plans to introduce plug-in hybrid, electric drivetrain options for its SUVs soon. 

2023 Mazda CX-50 Brings Mazda’s Signature Handling to the Great Outdoors

Mazda CX-50 Adds Its Own Spin to the Compact SUV 

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 left a lasting impression with a sophisticated all-wheel-drive and G-Vectoring system, bringing a unique spin to the compact SUV segment. The CX-50 offers station wagon levels of interior space with lively handling both on and off-road. Its brawny exterior design is matched with a torque engine that rumbles like an angry Jack Russell terrier past 3,000 RPM. Starting price for the naturally aspirated 2023 Mazda CX-50 S starts at $26k with Radar Cruise Control as standard. The Mazda CX-50 T starts at $36k with the top tier "fully loaded" variant boasting an MSRP of $41k with standard heated rear seats and wireless phone charging. 

Mazda's focus on the connection between driver and machine is peace of mind in an anxious world waiting for self-driving cars. With the CX-50, Mazda brings its reputation for engaging driving dynamics off-road, making getting to the campsite as fun as being there.